Senate Republicans are growing increasingly frustrated with acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyThe Hill’s Morning Report – Lawmakers split over Mueller findings: ‘case closed’ vs. ‘cover-up’ Republican senators give Pence an earful on trade Trump, Senate GOP discuss effort to overhaul legal immigration MORE.
GOP senators see the former House lawmaker as an obstacle to striking deals on spending, including a stalled disaster relief package. The intraparty battle could spill over into high-profile debates on fiscal matters, such as raising the debt ceiling and avoiding another government shutdown.
Before joining the administration, Mulvaney was a founding member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which rose to prominence after the Tea Party wave of 2010 by opposing spending increases and the implementation of ObamaCare. Some GOP lawmakers worry that Mulvaney has ingrained the Freedom Caucus’s staunch conservative worldview to the White House, making it tougher to cut deals with Democrats.
“There is a feeling that the Freedom Caucus may be on the wane in the House, but it’s on the ascendency in the West Wing,” said one Republican senator, who requested anonymity to discuss colleagues’ frustration with Mulvaney.
A second GOP senator said, “He’s a former member of the Freedom Caucus, and he’s used to saying no.”
A third Senate Republican said there’s “frustration” that Mulvaney and his ally Russ Vought, the acting White House budget director, are willing to settle for a yearlong continuing resolution to fund the government instead of negotiating a new spending deal with Democrats.
Republicans warn a yearlong continuing resolution would likely result in a substantial defense spending cut.
Senate Republicans voiced their frustrations over the lack of progress on disaster relief and the annual spending caps to Vice President Pence during a meeting at the Capitol on Tuesday, according to lawmakers who attended.
The lawmakers told Pence that boosting aid for Puerto Rico, a Democratic demand, will have to be met in order to reach a deal on a package that would provide storm and flood relief to Republican states in the Midwest and Southeast.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyHouse committee approves 9.8b health, education bill Export-Import Bank back to full strength after Senate confirmations The Hill’s Morning Report – Lawmakers split over Mueller findings: ‘case closed’ vs. ‘cover-up’ MORE (R-Ala.) told reporters Tuesday that he had a “candid” conversation with Mulvaney earlier in the day about the lack of progress on disaster relief.
Asked if “candid” was a euphemism for a heated conversation, Shelby just chuckled.
John Czwartacki, a White House spokesman, expressed optimism that Congress will pass a disaster relief package soon but declined to comment on the complaints of Senate Republicans: “We are looking forward to the House and Senate passing a disaster relief bill to bring aid to those impacted as soon as possible. Other than that, we are not in the habit of commenting on private and deliberative conversations with members of Congress.”
Senate Majority Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneRepublican senators give Pence an earful on trade Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg meets with senators on privacy Tech faces tough choices on rural broadband MORE (R-S.D.) said that many Senate Republicans are eager to pass disaster relief and view Mulvaney as someone who could break the gridlock.
“Shelby wants to get this done and he’s got a lot of members in his ear about getting it done so I think he’s trying to convince the White House to get movement while Mulvaney is in a position, I think, to shake things loose if he wants to,” Thune said.
Shelby said the talks remained stalled as of Wednesday afternoon.
“We haven’t reached any resolution on disaster, caps or anything. Still talking,” he said.
Mulvaney also has his fans on Capitol Hill, such as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate Democrats ask Graham to bring Mueller to testify Hillicon Valley: Regulators press Congress on privacy bill | Americans mimic Russian disinformation tactics ahead of 2020 | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders back Uber strike | GOP senator targets ‘manipulative’ video games Klobuchar pressures Barr, Mueller for more information on special counsel’s findings MORE (R-S.C.), who on Wednesday praised Mulvaney’s service to Trump.
“I think he’s doing a good job. I’m glad he’s there,” Graham said. “I think he serves the president well, which is to balance out not only the Republican Party but how to deal with Congress.”
But Mulvaney’s tough stands on disaster relief and a possible spending caps deal are grating on the nerves of senators who want to pass bills.
“I wish we could get to agreement on both of those, disaster [relief] and spending cuts. I’ll say this about Mick Mulvaney: He’s been very accessible and willing to talk and cultivate relationships, but he does come from that belief set” of the Freedom Caucus, said Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoGOP distances itself from Trump’s ObamaCare attacks On The Money: Trump, Dems reach agreement to pursue T infrastructure plan | Tough questions ahead on funding | GOP skeptical deal will be reached | Moore’s Fed bid on shaky ground | Trump presses Schumer, Pelosi on stalled trade deal Moore’s bid for Federal Reserve looks increasingly shaky MORE (R-W.Va.), who served with Mulvaney in the House.
Capito said she has heard “rumblings” from colleagues about Mulvaney’s influence on spending discussions.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: HHS issues rule requiring drug prices in TV ads | Grassley, Wyden working on plan to cap drug costs in Medicare | Warren to donate money from family behind opioid giant Republicans rip GOP Intel decision to subpoena Trump Jr. On The Money: White House files notice of China tariff hikes | Dems cite NYT report in push for Trump tax returns | Trump hits Iran with new sanctions | Trump praises GM for selling shuttered Ohio factory | Ex-Im Bank back at full strength MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters last month that moving a disaster relief package and reaching an agreement with Democrats on spending caps are two of his top legislative priorities.
“We need to get this done. We need to pass it out of the Senate before the Memorial Day recess,” McConnell said Tuesday, arguing that the current relief package has taken longer to pass than similar measures after any previous disaster.
A Senate Democratic official familiar with the negotiations on disaster relief said Mulvaney has derailed emerging deals with last-minute objections.
“Even when they meet with Trump and the president says I’ll go along with this, that or the other thing, Mulvaney will say no,” said the Democratic official. “He’s always like, ‘No, we’re not for that.’ ”
“We could have passed something with 90 votes in the Senate in March and the House would have accepted it by a voice vote,” the source added.
Mulvaney has reined in Trump on other issues, such as a massive infrastructure deal the president discussed with Democrats last week.
Shortly after Democratic leaders touted a tentative agreement to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure, Mulvaney labeled the proposal unrealistic, predicting the talks would likely break down over differences on environmental regulation.
He poured more cold water on the idea Friday.
“Is it difficult to pass any infrastructure bill in this environment, let alone a $2 trillion one, in this environment? Absolutely,” Mulvaney told The Washington Post.
A Republican senator from the Midwest said he recalled Mulvaney pushing Trump to cut spending on crop insurance shortly after he took office in 2017 by advocating for reduced premium subsidies and limiting eligibility for subsidies to farms with incomes less than $500,000.
Mulvaney fell short in his effort to cut insurance subsidies, which are popular in farm states, but it left GOP lawmakers wary about his influence on the president.
“He’s tough,” said the GOP farm-state senator.